It was as good a start as I have ever seen, and boded well for the race, which is geographically closest to his home despite not being the Italian Grand Prix. That is hosted by the Mugello circuit near Florence. In this event he went from 11th on the grid after a fraught qualifying on Saturday to finish seventh, having spurted up to fifth in Turn 2 on the opening lap.
An unexpected short and sharp rain shower just before the start caused many riders field to hesitate at the ‘off’, but reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, starting second in a crucial race for his title defence, and Valentino were certainly not amongst the stragglers, with the Yamaha rider immediately snatching a lead he held onto for all 28 laps.
He rode superbly to close the gap on championship leader Casey Stoner, who started from pole, to just 35 points with five rounds to go. Casey’s hopes of a smooth run through to the end of the season were dealt a further blow when Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa cut past him to take second, and Jorge must be hoping that the two Honda riders continue taking points off each other as he pulls away from them.
After the finish Casey said he felt physically exhausted from jet lag during the race, having arrived from last Sunday’s race in Indianapolis only on Wednesday. I think that is telling - we have had two lots of US/European back-to-back races this season, and this travel has certainly taken its toll on everybody in the paddock.
That was certainly noticeable this weekend, and for me it was even more tiring than the rest: My partner Romina is Italian, so we decided to take our motorhome to Mugello and introduce our eight-and-a-half-month-old son Travis, whom we named after Travis Pastrana, the motocross champion and stunt performer whom we met one evening, to the delights of the Adriatic. Of course I didn’t get much sleep!
Back to Valentino and Ducati team-mate Nicky Hayden: When the rain fell at the start I hoped it would stay wet simply because that would have given Valentino a chance to get equal terms with the rest, and possibly even score a surprise victory. But the rain drops left as quickly as they arrived, and Valentino was in for a long afternoon, although he certainly looked as though he was thoroughly enjoying himself, and the local crowd certainly had eyes for one man only.
By contrast Nicky had a short day, This circuit has never been good to the 2006 world champion, and this time the front of the bike just got away from him on Lap 2, and that was his day. It happens in racing, and there is nothing else to add except that he owned up and apologised for his slip to the team and all his fans.
Next we all head for Aragon in central Spain before we are scheduled to fly to Japan, Australia and Malaysia for three flyaways in three weeks. More travel exhaustion, but I still love it!